Masterminding an Indie Book Launch
Getting books into the hands of readers is what every author wants, and there continues to be a persistent misbelief that it’s somehow easier or more efficient or more straightforward when you publish with a traditional publisher. Writers tend to think, in fact, that a traditional publisher will pretty much do it for them, but unless you land a big, fat juicy advance, or happen to be named Stephen King or Michelle Obama, this is simply not true.
What is true is that, no matter how you publish, it’s up to the writer to know your reader, find your reader, and connect with your reader.
When first-time authors consider the independent or hybrid publishing path, they tend to get nervous about this piece of the puzzle. In order to quell your nerves, I wanted to show you the steps that first-time novelist Amy Blumenfeld took for the launch of her novel, The Cast, which came out last week. Amy generously agreed to answer some questions about her process.
I had the great good fortune to coach Amy in the writing of this novel. She had been struggling with writing a memoir about her experience as an adult survivor of childhood cancer, and was feeling pulled to put the story into a fictional format so that she could examine the healing power of friendship. The Cast (the group of friends in the book) is inspired by 40 people from 10 families who supported Amy and her family when I was sick. She says, “I wanted to write a book that paid tribute to the dedication of good friends. I created a smaller group because, well, 40 people is just too many characters to follow in a novel!” The story of how they have helped her over the years was the one that was calling to her.
You can’t get into someone else’s head in a memoir, can’t dramatize events, can’t change timelines to make a more interesting story, and she was yearning to do those things. As an award-winning journalist, Amy knew all too well that you can’t make things up in memoir and she was feeling constrained by that boundary. I helped her make the shift to fiction, figure out a structure that could contain her story, and write a first and second draft. Through all that work, she never veered from her vision. It was a remarkable thing to witness.
Amy published her book with SparkPress, one of two imprints at SparkPointStudios. They are a hybrid imprint, which means that a writer gets some of the benefits of independent publishing and some of the benefits of traditional publishing.
Jennie: At launch, you were able to showcase the fact that your novel is a multi-award winning title. You won a Gold Medal in the 2018 IPPY Awards in Popular Fiction, and were a finalist for Best New Fiction in the IndieBookAwards. This is a powerful move, because it lifts you out of the pack right from the start. Did you submit the book for the awards yourself? How did you decide which ones?
Amy: Yes, I submitted the book for the awards. SparkPress gave us a list of awards that we could consider but it was on me to actually do the work and submit everything. I did some research online about the awards I thought I might be appropriate and looked up the past winners. I also looked at books/authors I admired who have written novels in the same genre and took note of which awards they won.
PRO TIP from Jennie: Notice how Amy researched authors she admires. That is the kind of boots-on-the-ground work that you need to do as you consider your own readers and how to reach them. Studying what other successful writers are doing is one of the best ways to learn.
Jennie: You worked with GetRed PR on your book launch — how did you select this agency?
Amy: SparkPress had a list of recommended publicists. I interviewed a few and chose Ann-Marie Nieves at GetRedPR. I really liked her. Plus, she happens to live here in NYC and was able to hook me into local networking events in addition to the larger broadcast and social media world.
PRO TIP from Jennie: I love that Amy trusted her gut on a PR pick. You can also see clearly on Ann-Marie’s site, GetRed PR, that she has deep experience with book launches and working with authors.
Jennie: How far out did you start working on your PR?
Amy: I interviewed Ann-Marie last winter and then we started working on the campaign in the spring (around March or April).
PRO TIP from Jennie: It is August right now, so that ,means Amy interviewed PR agents a good ten to eleven months in advance of launch and began planning the launch. The work itself started six months in advance. You MUST leave plenty of time to work your book launch — to get the book into reviewer’s hands, to apply for awards, to lay the groundwork for launch day.
Jennie: You are doing quite a number of bookstore events. Did you find any resistance from bookstores to the book being independently published? This is such a big concern for people considering hybrid or independent publishing. It is often harder to get bookstores to agree to carry your book.
Amy: I think the fact that SparkPress books are available for bookstores to order through Ingram helped. Some stores still wanted to work on consignment so I purchased a bunch of books directly from the publisher and am going to bring them into the bookstore.
PRO TIP from Jennie: Ingram is one of the industry’s largest global book distribution network. There are several ways to connect with them as a published author. Doing so is one of the benefits of the hybrid approach Amy took.
Jennie: All the graphics for your book (like the one, above) are so beautiful. Who did those for you?
Amy: I have an amazing web designer who does all this stuff. In fact, I like him so much my husband’s company is now using him! His name is Kenny McNett and his company is called Fitted Web Design. He works with a lot of authors so he knows what he’s doing for books
Jennie: You have great reviews from some of the big review sites — Booklist and Kirkus — and also an appearance on CBS This Morning’s podcast. How did you secure all the reviews and media?
Amy: My publicist, Ann-Marie Nieves, posted the book on Netgalley which is how all these reviewers on Goodreads got the book. In addition, she sent the ARCs to many reviewers both in the media as well as “bookstagrammers” and other influencers and reviewers on social media.
PRO TIP from Jennie: Booklist is the American Library Association’s review site, which is accessible to all book buyers and readers. Kirkus is a book review/discovery site that has been around for a long time.
Netgalley ”delivers digital galleys, often called advance reading copies, or ARCs, to professional readers and helps promote new and upcoming titles. Professional readers — reviewers, media, journalists, bloggers, librarians, booksellers and educators — can join and use NetGalley at no cost.”
Jennie: What’s next for the marketing plan?
Amy: I’m doing a bunch of radio interviews and some podcasts. I have a book tour lined up for the next few months mainly in New York and two events in Chicago. We are working on possibly doing events in Boston and the Washington, DC area as well. I was told I needed an Instagram account and to be active. I’m not at all a social media person but I’m learning that it is a very effective marketing tool. I cringe every time I post on Facebook or Instagram and don’t do it nearly as often as I probably should, but I’ve decided to be selective with my posts and do what makes me feel comfortable so I’ve been posting here and there but not all the time.
PRO TIP from Jennie: Notice how Amy doesn’t shy away from technology she finds daunting? She has found a way to do it that makes sense to her.
Jennie: How does it all feel???? Your first novel?
Amy: I’m very excited to have the book out there and to get people reading and talking about it. I love hearing the feedback. BUT I am also very nervous to get out there and promote at these events! I find it so ironic how writers tend to be introverts and enjoy working alone but are then expected to host these book signing events and get out there and travel and promote for months on end! So far, I’ve been really happy by the reception The Cast has received. I put my heart into this book so it’s nice to get positive feedback.
PRO TIP from Jennie: Notice how Amy doesn’t shy away from promotional activities even though they are not her favorite? This is the definition of a pro!
Jennie: Are you going to write another???)
Amy: Yes, I would like to write another book. In fact, I would like to write a sequel to The Cast. I feel there is more to some of the characters’ stories. I would shift the focus though onto some of the supporting characters and make them the main characters of the next novel. But I haven’t started writing yet. Just ideas jotted down. I need to get through this promotion first and then I can focus on it!
Jennie: Amy just learned that The Cast was named “Best Book of the Week” by the New York Post this week.